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Women in local government: still not enough


Fawcett Society, research, women councillors, women in local government, 2019 elections, maternity leave, Local government has a disproportionate impact on women’s lives so needs to have women’s voices heard.

New data from the Fawcett Society, following the 2019 local government elections, has found that women make up just 35 per cent of councillors throughout England.

After 8,410 councillors were elected in the biggest local elections for four years, the women’s rights campaign charity found that there was only a single percentage-point move toward gender equality; women remain outnumbered three-to-one on 12 per cent of councils and that 96 per cent of councils remain male-dominated.

The was revealed to Fawcett through Freedom of Information requests to councils.

And of those who responded just 20 councils – 8 per cent – have a maternity policy in place for their senior cabinet-level councillors; and only 7 per cent of councils have a maternity policy in place that covered ordinary councillor roles.

Fawcett urged council leaders to use the Local Government Association’s toolkit, released on International Women’s Day this year, to make being a councillor more accessible to women; and to introduce maternity policies for councillors and council cabinet members.

Of the council seats that came up for election this year, 35 per cent of the newly elected councillors were women, up from 32 per cent the last time most of these seats were contested – in 2015.

Just 30 per cent of the Conservatives councillors are women, 34 per cent of the Liberal Democrats, while 45 per cent Labour.

Fawcett is calling for:

The government to require parties to collect comprehensive, accurate election candidate diversity data, to enable a better understanding of how women, ethnic minorities, disabled people and LGBT people are represented, by implementing Section 106 of the Equality Act;

Councils to provide comprehensive support for childcare and adult care costs – currently, help with costs is patchy and some councils provide no support at all;

Councils to use technology for councillors to attend meetings remotely;

Codes of conduct against sexism to be introduced, and an effective Standards Committee to enforce it. Fawcett’s research found a third of female councillors had experienced sexist comments from their colleagues;

Councils to set out reasonable adjustments policies to support disabled women and men to be councillors;

Parties to set out targets for increasing women’s representation, and a clear action plan to achieve them – and commit to legislating for quotas if progress is not made; and for

Councils to commit to gender balanced leadership in their cabinet or committee chair posts, and eradicate ‘girl jobs and boy jobs’ in those roles.

Sam Smethers, the Fawcett Society’s Chief Executive, said: “Women’s representation in local government is at a standstill.

“This is fundamentally unacceptable and all parties must take action to change it.

“Local government has a disproportionate impact on women’s lives so it particularly needs to have women’s voices heard.

“It is shocking that in 2019 just twenty councils reported having maternity policies in place for councillors.

“There is no excuse for this inaction.

“The Local Government Association has introduced a toolkit for councils which includes the guidance and policies they need to make the change necessary.

“It is time for them to use it.”

To read the full report, Does Local Government Work for Women?, click here.

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